Howard Andrew Jones’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (Thomas Dunne Books 2011), was widely acclaimed by influential publications like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly, where it was labeled “a splendid flying-carpet ride.” It made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Additionally, The Desert of Souls was a finalist for the prestigious Compton Crook Award, and a featured selection of The Science Fiction Book Club. Its sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, is available now. He is hard at work on a third historical fantasy novel as well as a sequel to his Pathfinder Tales novel, Plague of Shadows.
I’d grown up loving books, and even though I’d outgrown the more romantic notions of what being an author was like, and understood that there’d be no limousines or chests or pirate gold short of the kind of immense success that never happens to the greatest percentage of writers, I still didn’t know quite what I was in for. It’s not just about the writing. When your book and career is launching, it’s about getting that writing into the hands of authors and reviewers who will help spread the word so that it gets into the hands of readers.
It wasn’t until I was in the middle of promotions that I understood that I had a product, and that I was marketing it. I’d briefly been in sales in my mid-twenties, and I hadn’t been very good at it. In those days my official title had been recycling consultant, and it had been my job to recruit local business to bring their used material – scrap metal, cardboard, plastic — to the salvage yard. I believed (and still believe) in the inherent good of recycling, but I’d still been a lousy sales guy. As a result, I was a little worried I’d be pretty bad about marketing my own work as well.
By marketing, I mean a whole lot of things. For instance, contacting other writers to ask for blurbs, some of whom you know, some of whom you’ve exchanged a hello with, and some of whom you admire so much you shake a little when you meet them. Even with a couple of books under my belt now, contacting other writers for blurbs remains one of my least favorite aspects of the whole writing business. I now understand just how busy a professional writer is. It’s all I can do to research and hit my deadlines, let alone read for fun, let alone read a book by someone I’ve never heard of before who’s asking me for a favor. Still, because we all have to do it, other writers don’t hold it against you. I just work really hard to be polite about it.
In addition to contacting other writers, you have to reach out to podcasts and web sites that cover the kind of thing you like to write, and try your darnedest to promote your work without sounding like a shill. Have you ever attended a convention panel and seen one of those authors who constantly punctuates everything they’re saying by lifting up a copy of their book, or referencing it? I don’t want to be that guy. I like talking about the writing process, and ancient history, and sword-and-sorcery, so I can talk about the things that interest me. If I wander too far out from those topics, then I don’t think I’m presenting the real me, and then I think I’d come off as a phony. I don’t like buying books from a phony, and I don’t imagine anyone else does either.
Eventually, though, you have to realize that despite all your promotional efforts, at some point things are out of your hands. There comes a time when you just have to let things ride. It’s the work that will rise or fall, and the work that will collect, or not collect, reviews and word of mouth. About all you can do is to point people out to the good reviews when they come in. That’s not to say that you should be sitting on your hands. The way things work for me, at least, is that while one is being marketed, the next one is under way.
And I suppose that’s what my friend Eric Knight was trying to tell me before I got my book deal when he said “beyond the mountains lie more mountains.” The book contract is the beginning of a new journey, not the end of the quest. The book contract means that you’re now fighting for shrinking shelf space, hoping you can reach an audience more compartmentalized and subdivided into different genres then ever before. How do you break through the white noise and reach enough different venues that enough people hear and try what you’re doing?
I’ll let you know if I figure it out. Right now, as I’m readying for the promotional push for my second historical fantasy, I am a little crunched for time, and wrestling with a family health emergency. It’s a little stressful, so I try to remind how lucky I am. I wanted to be an author for more than half of my life, and here I am, living the dream. Reviews have been good, and I’ve signed on for two more sequels after The Bones of the Old Ones. I have fingers crossed that more and more readers will find their way to my books, and that I’ll be able to tell stories about the characters I love for years to come.